The Guilty Party

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Going to Miss Friday Nights





During my career in high school I think I attended three or four football games. The circumstances surrounding those particular social scheduling aberrations I do not recall, but it likely had something to do with girls. My personal attitude toward football games was that they were a waste of a good Friday night. This position was fueled in large part by a perceived, if not completely justified, divide between the world of the arts, which I saw myself in, and the world of dumb jocks running around trying to throw each other to the ground. Hard divisions such as this are easy to come by when one is young, but if one is fortunate they soften at least a bit with age. And it helps when a common denominator comes into play. In my case that was the Toro Marching Band, which our daughter has been a part of for the past three years.

Suddenly, decades after my own high school days were nothing but a faint blur, I had a reason to clear my Friday nights for a football game. True enough, we came mostly to see and hear the band, and the Mountain View Toro Band is an amazing group, but there was a football game going on so we followed along with that and the rest of the side shows like the cheerleaders (death defying athletes is what they should call them), the Blue Guys (or whatever the five young fellows painted up blue and sporting the letters T-O-R-O-S on their chests are officially called), and, of course, the crowd itself. And although we were never particularly comfortable, even with padded stadium seats, and sometimes the games were anything but competitive, and way too often the people sitting around us were jabbering so much it was almost impossible to hear either the announcer telling us who had fouled whom or even the nearly two hundred musicians on the field during halftime playing and formationing their hearts out, all in all I wouldn't have missed one of those games for the world. It was community and pageant and spectacle and anarchy and laughter and disbelief and a whole lot of just plain getting away from the rest of the day.

Here are a few of the photos I have taken at those games.






This game was against my alma mater, Westwood High. It was homecoming for them as well as their 50th anniversary. I felt badly that they lost. If I recall the score was 50-14. And their band, like their football team,  both of which were powerhouses in the state back in the 70's, was a diminished force on the field. But they put on a great fireworks display and a nice homecoming parade around the track and it made me glad I was a Westwood Warrior.

My photographic holy grail as far as the games themselves were concerned, was to get a really good shot of a kick-off. Never got anything better than this one.

The Toro band staff cutting loose while the band plays a stand tune. Whenever the action on the field got a bit on the snoozy side, which was rather often, all I had to do was look left.

Usually it was one of the Blue Guys who would get on this platform, be hoisted up by a few dozen cheerleaders, and knock out pushups every time the Toro football team scored. If the team had made it to thirty points, the lad was obliged to do thirty pushups. Some games the BG's were notable for their absence. But the cheerleaders took over the Keeping Up With the Score duties without missing a beat. It was perhaps one of the least dangerous stunts they performed each Friday night. Those girls made me nervous.
 
For instance...


It was cool when the Mesa High School band came over to the home team side of the bleachers so they could watch our halftime show from a better perspective than their seats on the other side of the field afforded them. The bands are competitive but they are also amazingly supportive of each other. Respect amongst bands runs rampant in the best sort of way.



One of the three Toro drum majors leading the band in a stand tune.

A portion of the 193 member Toro marching band on the field performing their 2011 show "Elemental".

The highlight of every fourth quarter was when the drumline came out onto the track and performed. This nifty stunt by the bass drum players was always a crowd pleaser. The snares were sharp and confident. But it was the cowbell that really carried the day. During halftime our kid did some serious playing on the marimba, but come the fourth quarter she worked the crowd with the bell.


The last game of the season was over a week ago. The football team ended with a record of 4-6, worst in school history. The band is going to the state championship this Saturday.









Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Too Many, Too Much, Too Little

There are a few phrases that anyone who has worked retail for any amount of time is bound to hear a lot. "Just looking", of course, is Top of the Charts. Another perennial favorite is "When is this going to be on sale, hmm?", which really means "Lower the price for me today, why don't you?" Just a little ways down the list has got to be "There are too many choices. I can't make up my mind." At that point the good salesperson will step in, bring clarity to the situation with a few well considered and rehearsed questions, lead the customer along the path of decision making and the register rings happily.

It makes me wish that a person had ones own salesman. The benevolent kind, expert at getting to the heart of the matter, cutting through the nonsense and distractions and bringing focus, direction and, most especially, a decision. Why this desire for a personal sales force, a species most people declare to be annoying and dangerous to family finances? Because in life there is just too much to choose from.

Never mind the more substantial issues in life, today we will just consider the entertainment options. A few months ago we decided to subscribe to Netflix, that company that has been getting battered about in the news and online lately for their recent rate hike and decision (there's that word!) to split into two companies, one streaming directly to computers and televisions and the other mailing out DVD's and blu-ray discs. On the one hand this has been a wonderful thing. I have watched a couple of classic episodes of the oh-so-classic television program The Dick Van Dyke Show, allowing me to at once marvel at the timelessness of the material and talent and wallow in a deep trough of nostalgia. Together with my wife I have watched old favorite movies I thought I would never see again, such as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with Don Knotts, and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation with James Stewart. Both of them terrific flicks, but hardly worthwhile purchasing as DVDs. Through the mailing service we have found some wonderful movies we never would have discovered without the clever recommendations Netflix has in place. All well and good, eh? But here's the problem. The new television season is upon us, and although there are only a few shows we care to watch on a regular basis, often as not we don't have time to watch those. And yet now we have a backlog of half a dozen films ready to be sent to us in the mail and I have foolishly created a list of at least thirty movies, documentaries and old television programs in our "Instant Queue". We've only had the service for a few months and already I know we will never, ever get to watch everything that interests us. That is more than a bit depressing and can actually be just a tad debilitating. And when you add in the books I simply must read, the music that really should be listened to, really listened to, much more often, not to mention the theater, art museums, wine tours and street fairs clamoring for our time and attention and a person can be so overwhelmed with choices that it makes it almost impossible to enjoy one thing at a time, which in my experience is really the only way to truly enjoy anything. You're always thinking about what you are missing, which might be even better. Or maybe not.

So yes, it would be good to have somebody who could guide me in the direction of what I should do and do it with such consummate confidence that I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Right Choice has been made. No regrets, no pondering What Did I Miss In Order To Get This? A happy, satisfied customer of life.

Until I get the bill, that is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the Bookstore Shelf

There 'tis, snuggled alongside Escape Artist (an Edna Ferber Mystery) by Ed Ifkovic and published by Scottsdale's Poisoned Pen Press, and Bloodmoney (A Novel of Espionage)  by David Ignatius, published by the folks at W.W. Norton. Kind of makes me wonder if I need a parentheses sort of title to play with the big boys. The book on the other side, The Fourth Codex, by Robert Houston, is a used volume, with Amazon showing a publishing date of 1990, so Mr. Houston can be excused for the absence of any parenthetical appendages I suppose.

The shelf shown here is in the Mystery section of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. I'm not so sure that Boomerang qualifies as a mystery, it being more of a comic crime novel, but as Comic Crime has not yet earned a section of its own in any bookstore I know of I will be content to loiter amongst the Christies, Parkers, Graftons and Ifkovics of the literary world. If only the end of the "H's" wasn't on the bottom row...

I paid a visit to Changing Hands this morning to bring them a "staff" copy of Boomerang, hoping, of course, that at least one or two of their booksellers will give it a read, like it and tell customers about this gem of a book by a local author. Since the chances of it even being glanced at in a place swarming with ARC's (Advance Reading Copies) and all the other worthy volumes the place is swamped with every day is slight in the extreme, I made sure my book was accompanied by food. A lone book by an unknown author is, understandably, easy to ignore, but when it is ribbon tied to a bag of peanut butter stuffed pretzels and bucket of bite sized chocolate chip cookies in the employee breakroom I've got to believe it's bound to attract at least some attention. Shelly, the consignment manager, even said she would put a "Please Read Me" sign by Boomerang, so I'm hoping the combination will make at least a little bit of magic.

Beginning on Thursday, September 1, Boomerang will be on a display wall near the front of the store in a spot where they feature Local and Independent Authors. None of this spine to the public nonsense, instead a full face forward with Laura Lakey's terrific cover art shouting "buy this book!" to anyone within ten yards. Of course, just as publishers pay to get books they are trying to push in the windows and on the front displays of bookstores, there is a monthly fee to have ones book featured on the Local and Indy wall. The strategy of making my debut there in September, one of those "thirty days have" months, may be open to debate, but there you go, at least it's not February.

I will certainly be making another visit to Changing Hands as soon as I can once Boomerang is face forward. Take a photo, accost innocent book browsers, make a megaphone announcement about a blue light special at the Local Author wall. Whatever I can get away with.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.



Friday, August 5, 2011

More from North Carolina

A few more photos and notes from our recent trip to North Carolina. Or, to be more specific, Western North Carolina. Quite a few times we saw the WNC acronym, on both publications and signs. It signifies the mountainous nature of the landscape, at least as mountainous is defined in that part of the country. This part of the state has the Appalachian Mountains running through it, dominating the landscape. The term rolling hills came more readily to this Arizonan's mind, but if they want to call them mountains it works for me.

As I said in my last installment, we were not enthralled with what little we saw of Charlotte. But a short drive outside the city took us to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens where we had a wonderful time touring their formal gardens as well as the Meadowood Walk and the Orchid House.


I don't recall ever seeing crape myrtle trees before. They have lovely trunks.

 
Those who ventured under these arching streams of water did so at their own peril. They shut down every once in a while, causing the water to fall onto the path and anyone who happens to be on it.

Inside the Orchid House


Photo credit for this one goes to my wife, Anne.
There are no restaurants at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, but the very nice lady at the information counter gave us a sheet listing local eating establishments and told us that Sammy's Neighborhood Pub in Belmont is a particular favorite of her husband's, which means that they dine there just about once a week. We checked it out and found the food quite good, the service excellent and the beer selection extensive . I imagine that may have something to do with her husband's affection for the place. I had a nice pulled pork sandwich with a side of deep fried okra and a glass of Death by Hops beer produced by the Olde Hickory Brewery in Hickory, NC. It was a good choice.

And now a few words about the place we stayed in Asheville, Carolina Bed and Breakfast. The innkeepers, James and Susan Murray, are, simply put, doing it right. The location is on a quiet residential street, the facilities are comfortable and clean and very nicely decorated, and the food is amazing. Susan is the chef and James the host and they both excel at what they do. Of course it didn't hurt that the people at the breakfast tables the mornings we were there were interesting, good conversationalists and a general delight to spend a bit of time with before we headed out for whatever the rest of the day had in store for us.

The dining room at the Carolina Bed and Breakfast. I asked James about the portrait on the wall, expecting it to be something they picked up at an antique house or yard sale. Fact is, that is an ancestor of his. I should have been taking notes, because now I do not recall the gentleman's name, although I think there may have a been a Colonel attached to it somewhere. The painting, James told us, has been all over the world with them. The Murrays lived overseas for twenty seven years before settling in Asheville and purchasing the Carolina B&B.


We stayed in the Cottage, just out back. Lots of room, a kitchen we never used and a more than decently sized bathroom. It was, in a word, perfect.


One last photo and then it will be time to bid farewell to WNC.





May today find you just where you are supposed to be. 

Whatever that means.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Notes from North Carolina

For over twenty years I worked at a store in an upscale shopping center called The Biltmore Fashion Park. For most of those years I had no idea, and, quite honestly, less curiosity, about where the name came from. Then a few years ago I heard about the Biltmore Estate just outside Asheville, North Carolina. The Biggest House in America, built by George Vanderbilt, youngest scion of William Henry Vanderbilt, who himself was the eldest son of "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built an enormous transportation empire in the mid 1800's and left almost all of his estate to son Billy, who, possibly in an effort to prove his father's assessment of his talents and work ethic wrong, nearly doubled the value of his inheritance in the mere nine years between his father's death and his own. At the time he died he was the richest man in the world. George, as eighth out of eight children, received the smallest portion of this enormous wealth.

It seems to have been enough for him to scrap together the funds to build his version of a Loire Valley Renaissance chateau, modeling it after examples such as the Chateau de Blois. George passed away in 1914 and although the house has remained in the family it has been essentially a tourist attraction and excellent example of Gilded Age extravagance since sometime in the 1950's. So of course we wanted to see it. Here are a few photos from the grounds, which have been reduced to a mere 8,000 acres from the original purchase of something around 120,000 acres. I guess the choice was either sell off the land or get a part time job to pay the taxes and the groundskeepers' salaries and selling the land seemed less time consuming.

You can't take pictures inside the place. If you visit and want visual evidence you've got to buy one of their books. Which we did.




This shot I took while we were on the Architect's Tour, which takes you, among other places, to the way up high balconies both front and back.

The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same fellow who did such a spiffy job with Central Park. Close to the home are elegant, manicured gardens including one with lots of water lilies, but stay on the path and soon you are in carefully conceived "wild" country, heading to the Bass Pond.

An early evening view from the back. I do need to send a thank you note to the horse who was nice enough to pose for me.

The Rose Garden.

Well, we did more than visit the Biltmore while we were in North Carolina. We also attended a concert at the Brevard Music Center. This was a very nice surprise sprung on us by my cousin Maggie, who has lived in Asheville for about a year and a half and who knows how much we enjoy good music. The evening was gorgeous, the venue handsome as can be and the music making of a very high order. The conductor was Joann Falletta, who is a petite woman with what seems to be enormous energy as well as world class conducting skills, and the violin soloist was Robert McDuffie, who just ripped it up on the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D Major and then followed with a beautifully played encore. If I know my traditional Celtic tunes the encore was "Bluebonnets Across the Border".
Just like no photos inside the Biltmore, there were no photos during the performance, so here are a few shots of the open air concert hall  before the concert began and surroundings.
There were some very nice "musical" items for sale, benefiting the educational programs at Brevard.

Before I forget, our visit to North Carolina actually began with one night in Charlotte. I am sure the city has lots to recommend it, but we weren't especially enthralled with the bits and pieces we saw. We stayed at the NS Alexander Homestead Bed and Breakfast, which is a lovely old house, nicely decorated and situated on several acres of pretty grounds. Our room was beautifully appointed and the bed comfortable. So the place has some things going for it. Unfortunately there are several items we felt were on the debit side of the ledger. For one thing, there is little if any sound insulation between the rooms and the only other occupied room was right next to ours and its occupants were enjoying a rather loud James Bond movie marathon that lasted from the time we checked in around 4:30 PM to almost 11:00 PM. And while the website does mention "bathroom down the hall", they fail to mention said bathroom will be shared. I'm a community minded fellow, but honestly, that little fact should be mentioned. They also failed to mention the security gate it is necessary to pass through in order to get to the house. The code they gave us did not work and it took a while for anyone to come out to let us in.

One of the reasons we like to stay at B&B's is because we like to meet the owners. They are almost always a wealth of information about the area, often as not are excellent hosts who literally make you feel as if you are guests in their own home and it's just part of the B&B experience that sets it apart from staying at a hotel, however nice it might be. Well, the owners of the NS Alexander were nowhere to be found while we were there.The closest thing to a resident seems to be Winn-Dixie, an affable dog who likes to have her belly rubbed. There were a couple of employees skittering about, but one was a bit conversation shy, possibly due to the fact that English was obviously not her first language, and the other was a nice enough fellow who seemed to have a whole lot to do.

The breakfast itself was unremarkable, saved for us by some wonderful conversation with a gentleman from Atlanta who was with his son who had just finished a basketball camp elsewhere in the state. We very much enjoyed our time with them and felt badly that we had harbored such uncharitable thoughts about our next door neighbors with the 007 festival in their room.




Looks like this entry is going pretty long, so I'll do a part two in a day or so. There will be shots from the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, maybe more from the Biltmore and some very nice things need to be said about the Carolina Bed and Breakfast, our home for four days in Asheville.

Whether Home or Away, I wish you a wonderful day.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The New Cover is On Its Way!

Legend Press, the paperback publisher for Boomerang, has just notified me that my first batch of books with the new Laura Lakey designed cover is about to be shipped. That means if you have been itching for your very own autographed copy but weren't too sure about the old boring cover snuggling up on your bookshelf your last excuse has just vanished. Wander on over to Boomerang's Home on the Web and click on the Buy Now button for a secure PayPal transaction and I will speed your copy on its way just as soon as the shipment arrives from the printer.

Thanks!

Alan

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Little Getaway

When one works retail a weekend getaway often as not happens sometime other than the weekend proper. This past Thursday and Friday we spent up in Prescott, which is about four thousand feet and fifteen to twenty five degrees cooler than the Phoenix area this time of year. The weather plus the easy strolling downtown area, which actually has more of a Midwestern than Southwestern feel to it, along with some very nice out and about in nature possibilities within minutes of the place makes Prescott a terrific place to spend some quality time. Little Froggie, pictured above, is posing a the top of the steps of the County Courthouse, Prescott being the county seat of Yavapai County. 

Here is a rather wider view of the courthouse, this time minus Little Froggie. The courthouse sits in the center of town and has a nice little park surrounding it, complete with century old bandstand. It is a great place to enjoy the shade, have a sit, take a walk or...

...blow nice big bubbles, as this little girl was doing. You just don't see that sort of thing in downtown Mesa, especially during the summer. Any bubble blowing here is likely done in the backyard by the pool. Still fun, but not nearly as, well, civic minded. After all vicarious bubble blowing has its own benefits and charms.

There is a timeline etched into the walkway leading to the statue of a Rough Rider on this side of the courthouse that tells the history of this part of Arizona. Apparently the work was commissioned in 1984 and updates have not been made, although they left a fair amount of space. 

We spent some time checking out the shops that line the square. This is a look out of the window of one of those shops. Me and crows, we like shiny things. Lunch was at a place called Bill's Pizza. Shame on me I didn't get a photo of the place. Not a whole lot to look at, but excellent pizza, we all agreed.


Also excellent was the patio at The Prescott Pines Inn, which is where we stayed. Lots of shade, lots of pretty landscaping details and, thankfully, a bit of time was built into our agenda for simply sitting and reading.

I'm not a huge garden gnome fan, but I like this fellow.

Papa's Italian Restaurant, just down White Spar Road from the inn, was recommended to us. The place is just open from 4-8 PM most days and closed, if I recall correctly, on Sundays and Mondays, and we were told to make reservations, which turned out to be excellent advice. The place was packed when we got there, the food was quite good, although they do ladle on the sauces a bit much, my wife's portobello mushroom ravioli was swimming when it would have done quite nicely just wading or paddling its feet. But other than that an excellent choice.

Time to head to work, it being Saturday and all. Will finish this entry ASAP.

How about just a few more photos?



The rather modest entry to the Foxglove suite. Not the sunniest room in the establishment but not bad. We were informed that the futon intended for the third and fourth guest will be replaced by a pull out sofa with actual mattress. Good idea.


All in all a relaxing couple of days.





A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.